The Los Angeles-based contemporary label, acquired by Kellwood Co. in 2006, started making deliveries of a women’s denim capsule collection in January and followed up with a full collection spring delivery at the end of February. Last week, the label added a men’s denim assortment to the mix.
Rea Laccone, the firm’s chief executive officer, and Christopher LaPolice, president, are up front about their lack of experience in the denim arena and the challenges they faced developing the line.
“Christopher and I have never been in denim, but certainly the product from Day One has been all about pairing it with denim,” said Laccone.
Laccone and LaPolice, who started Vince in 2002, may find the timing of their move into denim to be spot on. The recession presented the duo with an opportunity to bring denim experts into the company and the introduction of the product looks to be taking place at a time when consumer confidence is on the upswing, even if marginally so. The brand also has momentum on its side. LaPolice said sales crested at $100 million in 2009.
“A lot of good people seem to be available right now that are jeaners,” said Laccone. “That’s the first thing that you need, somebody with a track record with fit and relationships with these very difficult mills and very challenging wash houses in Los Angeles.”
Women’s styles include skinny, straight and slightly slouched cuts, as well as denim leggings. Retail prices range from $185 to $275. Men’s styles include skinny and straight legs and retail for $185 to $245. The line uses Italian and Japanese fabrics and is cut, sewn and washed in Los Angeles.
Laccone believes the city’s extensive manufacturing know-how makes it “still the best place to make denim,” and being located there has given her firsthand experience with the challenges of nailing fits and washes.
“It’s a very frustrating business and you truly have to be a jeaner,” she said. “Somebody in the company — one, two or three people — has to live and die it. They have to have a lot of experience, and the patience and the attention to detail that it absolutely requires.”
Laccone and LaPolice believe the reaction from female customers so far has been in keeping with the brand’s DNA. As it has in the broader denim segment, the denim leggings have been among the strongest sellers. Otherwise, shoppers have gravitated toward basic, clean washes.
LaPolice said the success of the brand’s other offerings have made their customers, which include Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lane Crawford and boutiques across the country, willing to try Vince denim.
“Our retail customers, based on the success we’ve had, are always open to other categories that we could introduce,” said LaPolice. “We’ve developed a leather category over the last 24 months that has been phenomenal.”
Laccone later added the line’s leather offerings have netted sales in excess of $18 million. She hopes the denim will grow in a similar fashion, but declined to give a specific projection.
The brand is currently readying for the opening of the 13th Vince-branded store in Atlanta next month. LaPolice said scouting is underway for a 14th location in London, which would be the brand’s first international unit.
“Based on the performance of 2009, there’s a bit of optimism with the retail division,” he said, adding that 10 of the stores were opened within a year. “Based on that performance, our parent company is feeling a bit more aggressive about the retail rollout. It’s really going to depend on the right locations and whether they make economic sense.”
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